L'Acephale - Mord und Totschlag
Aurora Borealis
Black Metal, Dark Ambient
10 songs (1:18:17)
Release year: 2007
Aurora Borealis
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the month

There’s always a feeling of self-consciousness when reviewing Black Metal, moreso than other genres. As much as any music is about the personal touch it has upon the listener, with Black Metal there’s a direct appeal to what’s darkest in your heart. Where one person may hear an unqualified mess of screeching and random noises, to another it can strike a chilling note at the heart of their existence. So, when I find myself engaging directly with an album, there’s an automatic level of shame involved. Is it right to enjoy this? Am I the only one who does? This is even before the review is written, generally consisting of vast chasms of hyperbole that the music can rarely live up to, since simple words are generally not enough to paint a compelling picture of what the music actually sounds like.

Sometimes, however, there’s a piece of music that’s so deep and wonderful that the words flow easily. Looking at what’s generally accepted as being the modern elite of Black Metal – Deathspell Omega, Leviathan, Nachtmystium, you know the names – it’s interesting how far the genre has come from its early days. None of these bands can really be described as Pure Black Metal, whatever that may mean, but despite that they’re accepted in ways that others aren’t. There does appear to be a common idea of what is ‘good’ in Black Metal, what ‘works’ within the genre’s narrow yet flexible confines and what doesn’t. Which makes it, ultimately, impossible to know how people are going to react when you tell them of something new, original – terms that aren’t always welcome to your casual kvltster – and ultimately good, as L’Acephale is.

Formed in 2002, the band play a primitive form of Black Metal heavily mixed with atmospheric ambience. Distorted riffs rise out of the murky darkness whilst the vocalist howls and snarls out his misery, and just as you think you’ve heard it all before the band takes a sudden twist that leaves you breathless. For a start, the riffs are far from repetitive, turning and twisting, striking the perfect balance between melody and brutality, reminiscent of a more sinister Drudkh, especially on Psalm of Misery. It’s honestly impossible to tell much about the drums, even if they’re programmed or not, as they are placed firmly in the background. Most of the time it’s more than possible that there are no drums, just the echoes of the riffs.

The vocals are intense, yet for the most part easily understandable, pained screams that the foggy production warps into something otherworldly. First track proper Terror is Our Tenderness shows them off at their most powerful, using them as the focal point for ten minutes without losing an iota of power. Annoyingly, the rest of the music tends to get drowned out by the vocals, most noticeably during the first half of the song, but midpoint thunderous sound effects start to interweave with the other instruments and it all fuses into a magnificent unity. The track dips into utter chaos in the final minutes, ending the opening song better than many bands close their entire albums.

The Book of Lies keeps the intensity level at a high, bearing a dark yet epic atmosphere that Black Funeral has spent its entire career trying to perfect. The drums are a little higher in the mix as well, providing that extra heaviness before the downright creepy Heartless & Miserable makes its presence known.

What makes Mord und Totschlag especially fascinating is that the ambience is as engrossing if not moreso than the Black Metal. This is an album that works as a single entity more than a collection of tracks, a journey to be undertaken via the by now mandatory dark-room-and-headphones. Take the longest song on offer, the twenty-one minute plus Against a Weeping Sea of Sleep, which starts in typically bleak fashion before seamlessly drifting into a Neofolk-influenced acoustic section with female vocals and ominous build-and-release effects in the background. What makes this especially forceful is that it feels natural – this is no jarring Avant-Garde experiment, this is a genuinely twisted journey into the band’s personal darkness, and not a moment of it is dull.

Generally finding track-by-track reviews pointless and unexciting, I’ll leave the other songs to speak for themselves. You can be sure that the quality level is kept at a high throughout, and the band manages to surprise without going out of character. The quality extends even to the packaging, the album housed in a deluxe DVD package with a poster featuring more of the disturbing artwork that decorates the booklet.

In conclusion, L’Acephale is a must-buy for any devotee of darkness drawn to the genre by the ghostly wanderings of Xasthur or the melancholy of Alcest. Far too often Black Metal bands are hyped as something that will seize you by the throat and emotionally gut you; it’s a pleasure to be able to introduce a band that lives up to its mission. The aforementioned feeling of wrongness is a part and parcel of the experience, and it is this that puts the Black in the Black Metal. As an initial release, Mord und Totschlag is impossible to criticise; let’s hope it won’t be the last we hear of them.

Killing Songs :
All are godly
Goat quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by L'Acephale that we have reviewed:
L'Acephale - Stahlhartes Gehause reviewed by James and quoted 92 / 100
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